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Semiotics

Semiotics

NOMENCLATURE

SAUSSURE AND SEMIOLOGY

PEIRCE AND SEMEIOTIC

DIFFERENCES BETWEEN SAUSSURE AND PEIRCE

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Toward the end of the seventeenth century John Locke (16321704) partly hoped for, partly prophesied, and partly proposed a new field of inquiry called semeiotike. That doctrine of signs, which he characterized as aptly enough also, logic, invites the reader to consider the nature of signs, the mind makes use of for the understanding of things, or conveying knowledge to others (Locke [1690] 1996, p. 337). Lockes proposal was neglected until the American logician-philosopher-mathematician Charles Sanders Peirce (18391914) picked up its charge in his writings from1866 until his death in 1914. In keeping with what he considered the ethics of terminology, Peirce named this effort, which he describes as the doctrine of the essential nature and fundamental varieties of possible sign-activity, semeiotic (emphasizing the diphthong ei in semeion [sign] in its spelling to indicate the words Greek origin), though he sometimes used the term semiotic.

Independently of Peirce and Locke, the Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure (18571913) determined to study the life of signs in social life and named his new science semiology. In contrast to Peirces writings, his lecture notes, which were compiled and published posthumously in 1966 by his students as Cours de Linguistic Générale, caught the attention of several leading linguists and signophiles soon after his death.

NOMENCLATURE

In addition to semiology, semeiotic, and semiotic, there were also available the labels, semiotics, significs, and signology. However, the struggle for recognition was between semiology and semiotics, and semiotics won the day. Apart from the deliberated extension of their inquiries into extralinguistic sign systems and their choice of a label to describe their work, most self-styled semioticians were semiologists by another name and the Cours remained their foundational text. Among the rest, semeiotic and semiotic were to become associated with those whose research followed more or less Peircean lines. Nevertheless, there have been considerable crossovers in the use of labels and some mixing up of theoretical orientations as well. Many Peirceans use semiotics and non-Peirceans use semiotic, though the latter employ it mostly as an adjective rather than as a noun in their writings. Semeiotic is never used by Saussurians, and Peirceans who use that term do so to mark the difference of their approach to the sign from that of the Saussurians.

SAUSSURE AND SEMIOLOGY

A linguistic sign as defined by Saussure is a two-sided phenomenon, a relationship that links an acoustic image and a concept, or a signifier and a signified. The link is not between a thing and its name but between a sound pattern and a concept. That relationship is internal to language, internal to the mind, and independent of external reality. Therefore, a linguistic sign does not stand for an external world but construes it. Thus, a tree that is signified by the word tree is not an actual tree but the concept tree. Similarly, a signifier does not stand for the signified but instead construes it. The signifier and the signified are functives that are copresent or co-occurrent, although on different strata, with the first being more abstract than the second. In their respective strata they exist in a context of other signifiers and signifieds, respectively. Each is held together with and held apart from the other signifieds and signifiers in their respective strata by similarities and differences; that is what makes them part of a system or structure.

Which signifier pairs with which signified is determined by convention; it is arbitrary from an empirical point of view. The external world is brought into a relationship with the internal structure by the projection of the internal structure on the external world. That logocentric view overly simplifies a beings living-in-the-world and its engagement with that world to the point of solipsism. The semiologically structured internal relationship of the signifier to the signified analogically structures, organizes, and orients sign users to the flux of percepts they receive from the external world. This is a nominalistic view of both language and the world.

There are many reasons why the semiological model of the signdyadic, nonmaterial and confined to a hermetically sealed system called languagecame to assume paradigmatic power over semiotics generally. The foremost reason is structural: Only human beings have culture. Not all the features that constitute culture are uniquely human, but language is. What makes human language unique is la langue. The linguistic sign is the defining element of la langue. The defining feature of the linguistic sign is its binary structure, in which the elements of the dyad are held together by a relationship that is arbitrary or conventional (as opposed to natural). From this it is hypothesized that even though the uniquely human institution called culture is not identical to language, because its only assuredly human feature is language, the elementary form of culture must be structured along the lines of the elementary form of language: the linguistic or semiological sign.

PEIRCE AND SEMEIOTIC

One can find as many as eighty-eight definitions of the sign in Peirces published and unpublished writings. Peirce defined and adjusted the definition of the sign to a range of contexts, a short list of which includes mathematics, logic, philosophy, pendulum experiments, chemistry, psychology, language, history, realism-nominalism debates, scholasticism, metaphysics, theories of mind, and discussions of truth. He often bent his definitions for the benefit of his interlocutors and correspondents comprehension.

Peirce had a pansemeiosic view of the world. The sign easily transgressed such dichotomies as mind-body, nature-culture, human-animal, internal-external, and matter-spirit. For Peirce the universe is perfused with signs. He considered thought as semeiosic sign activity but not necessarily connected with a brain. It appears in the work of bees, of crystals, and throughout the purely physical world. He claimed that not only is thought in the organic world, but it develops there, granting that signs must have a Quasi-mind. His belief that there can be no isolated sign was frustrated by demands for a definition of the sign, for he considered a sign only as part of a semeiotic process (Peirce 1934, vol. 4, para. 551; vol. 5, para. 448).

Peirce held that even a person is not absolutely an individual but a state of consciousness. Every state of consciousness was an inference for Peirce, and therefore life itself was a sequence of inferences or a train of thought. At any instant then man is a thought. Moreover, if consciousness is taken to mean thought, he reminds the reader that thought is more without us than within. It is we that are in it, rather than it in any of us. Here Peirce anticipates Michel Foucaults idea of episteme and discourse as well as his critique of the overrating of agency by modern individualism. Mans thoughts are what he is saying to himself, that is, saying to the other self that is just coming into life in the flow of time. When one reasons, it is that critical self that one is trying to persuade. Human thought, he opined, was a sign, mostly of the nature of language. Given that language is by and large constituted of symbols, and that at any instant man is a thought, and thought is a species of symbol, the general answer to the question what is man? is that he is a symbol (Peirce 1934, vol. 5, para. 421; 1958, vol. 7, para 583; 1958, vol. 8, para. 256).

DIFFERENCES BETWEEN SAUSSURE AND PEIRCE

There are many differences between Saussures and Peirces concepts of the sign. The Saussurian sign is dyadic, originating in linguistics, whereas the semeiosic sign is irreducibly triadic and based on logic. Also, logic as semeiotic is a normative or formal science, in contrast to the empirical sciences such as linguistics and psychology, which Peirce classified as special sciences. As a formal science, semeiotic is concerned with the necessary conditions for what makes something a sign as such, the bases on which to determine its truth, and the conditions that are required for the communication and growth of signs.

Peirce derived the proof for the signs triadicity from logic, mathematics, and phenomenology. With a certain amount of familiarity with a number of his scattered definitions of the semeiosic sign, one can begin to appreciate the complexity of the sign and the work it does. In the triadic sign, the first thing to know is that the first correlate of the triad is the sign (at times called the representamen), the second correlate is the object, and the third is the interpretant. Thus, the semeiosic Sign (uppercase) is constituted by an irreducible triadic correlation in which a sign (lowercase) stands for an object to an interpretant. The sign as the conveyer of meaning mediates between the object and the interpretant; the interpretant mediates between the sign and the object to interpret the meaning; the object mediates between the interpretant and the sign to ground the meaning. If any one of the three correlates is removed, the Sign as such will not be an actual Sign but merely a potential Sign.

Despite his numerous attempts to fix the sign in a definition, Peirces fundamental conception of semeiotic was the process of signing or semiosy rather than the sign per se. This is evident in the following definition: The sign is anything which determines something else (its interpretant ) to refer to an object to which itself refers (its object ) in the same way, the interpretant becoming a sign in turn, and so on ad infinitum (Peirce 1934, vol. 2, para. 303). When defined in this way, the sign brings out the open and dynamic nature of sign activity or semiosy. Semiosy is the very life of the sign. When semiosy ceases, the sign either dies or goes into hibernation until an interpretansign predisposed to receiving its representation of the object arrives. Thus, a potsherd from an antique goblet would hibernate until a knowledgeable archaeologist found it, realized it, and represented it as a sign of an antique goblet to a student. The student would, as the next interpretant-sign along the chain of revivified semeiosis who was fit to receive (by training) the representation, then translate and communicate the meaning of the represented object to yet another interpretant-sign (that students own students, say) even as the professors representation of the potsherd as representing the original goblet was communicated to the original student. And then the represented object will be represented to someone else, that is, yet another interpretant, ad infinitum. The very structure of the semeiotic sign establishes it as fundamentally and minimally dialogic.

At the most abstract level there are three types of interpretants: the immediate, the dynamic, and the final. Peirce describes the immediate interpretant as the immediate pertinent possible effect in its unanalyzed primitive entirety (Robin 1967). A dynamic interpretant is the actual manifestation of a significant effect. A final interpretant is the teleological growth of a sign that makes its home an interrelated system of signs. The three interpretants that correspond in human experience to these abstract interpretants are the emotional, the energetic, and the logical interpretants. The feeling of déjà vu would be an example of an emotional interpretant; the bodily reaction of a person at whom the command halt! is barked out by a soldier after the declaration of a curfew would be an example of an energetic interpretant; the habitualized mode of conditional reasoning such as if the light turns red, I will not cross the road would be a logical interpretant. The dynamic interpretant does not possess meaning but is a brute reaction; neither does an emotional interpretant that remains at the level of a mere feeling before being put into words have meaning. A logical interpretant is meaningful. The path a river takes is a final interpretant: a habit carved into the earth. There are many other triadic sets of sign types and other triadic phenomena in Peirces writings. They are generated by the logic of Peirces phenomenological categories of Firstness, Secondness, and Thirdness; the possible, the actual, and the general, or mood, the moment, and mind, respectively (Daniel 1996, pp. 104134).

SEE ALSO Anthropology, Linguistic; Culture; Foucault, Michel; Linguistic Turn; Logic; Symbols

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Daniel, E. Valentine. 1996. Charred Lullabies: Chapters in an Anthropography of Violence. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Deeley, John. 1982. Introducing Semiotic: Its History and Doctrine. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Hodge, Robert, and Gunther Kress. 1988. Social Semiotics. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press

Liszka, James Jakob. 1996. A General Introduction to the Semeiotic of Charles Sanders Peirce. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Locke, John. [1690] 1996. An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, ed. Kenneth P. Winkler. Indianapolis, IN: Hacket.

Peirce, Charles S. 18491914. Papers. Manuscript Collection in the Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Peirce, Charles S. 1934. Collected Papers, vols. 16, eds. Charles Hartshorne and Paul Weiss. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Peirce, Charles S. 19581966. Collected Papers, vols. 78, ed. Arthur Burks. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Peirce, Charles S. 19801996. The Writings of Charles S. Peirce: A Chronological Edition, vols.15, ed. Max H. Fisch. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Robin, Richard S. 1967. Annotated Catalogue of the Papers of Charles S. Peirce. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press.

Saussure, Ferdinand de. 1974. Course in General Linguistics, eds. Charles Bally and Albert Sechehaye; trans. Wade Baskin. London: Fontana.

Thibault, Paul J. 1997. Re-reading Saussure: The Dynamics of Signs in Social Life. London and New York: Routledge.

E. Valentine Daniel

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Semiotics

Semiotics


Semiotics is the study of signs and signification. Its subject matter includes the processes involved in both the production and interpretation of signs, as well as the classification of signs into various types and categories. The term itself has Greek roots (semeiotike ) and a complex history of usage. Although it has become the word most commonly used to designate this area of study, ironically, it was employed by neither of the two great theorists who most decisively shaped modern semiotics. The American philosopher Charles S. Peirce (18391914) preferred semiotic (parallel to terms like logic and rhetoric) as a label for the study of the doctrine of signs, or frequently semeiotic to indicate its derivation from the Greek. And the French structuralist Ferdinand de Saussure (18571913) conceived of language as a particular system of signs, linguistics itself as being one part of the comprehensive science of signs that he called semiology.

Semiotics has sometimes been understood as a specific discipline, with its own method and determinate subject matter. In this case, the semiotician will attend most directly to the basic structure of the sign relation, the conditions of possibility for anything functioning as a sign of anything else. Here semiotics is closely related to philosophy (especially to inquiries in formal logic) and to theoretical linguistics. More typically, however, semiotics has been portrayed as a complex, interdisciplinary field of study, drawing not only upon philosophy and linguistics, but also with vital links to literary and communication studies, hermeneutics, the history and theory of art, anthropology, sociology, psychology, and even biology and the natural sciences.

In the earliest usage of the term, semiotics referred to a branch of ancient Greek medicine, the identification of physical symptoms for the purpose of making diagnostic inferences. During the same period, Greek philosophers were laying some of the theoretical foundations for the development of western semiotics with their analyses of the nature of signs, language, and meaning; especially important in this regard were the logical investigations of Aristotle (384322 b.c.e.) and of the Stoics. In late antiquity, Augustine of Hippo (354430 c.e.) developed what some scholars regard as the first systematic theory of semiotics in his treatises De magistro (The Teacher) and De doctrina christiana (On Christine doctrine). Augustine drew upon earlier Stoic deliberations, but generated new insight in an account that treated both nonverbal and verbal signs. His theory was essentially communicative, addressing not only the relation between signs and what they signify, but also exploring how signified meanings are conceived or brought to awareness in an interpreter's mind.

Medieval semiotics was heavily indebted to both the Aristotelian and Augustinian legacies. As it had with Augustine, semiotics took on a theological significance for the scholastics. A coherent doctrine of signs was essential for understanding the nature and efficacy of those special symbols of divine grace known as sacraments. At the same time, it was characteristic of the medieval outlook that the entire universe was perceived as signifying the divine will, just as any created effect is an index of its cause. The "book of nature" as well as the book of Scripture was a potentially fertile source of divine revelation, a general perspective that would serve as a stimulus to inquiry in the natural sciences as well as in theology.

Even while scholastic philosophy was on the decline elsewhere in Europe, in Spain and Portugal there were important advances in semiotics late in the medieval period and beyond. Here the writings of Peter Fonseca (152899) and John Poinsot (15891664) are particularly notable for their anticipation of modern developments. It was the British philosopher, John Locke (16321704), however, who first utilized the Greek term semeiotike to refer to that part of philosophy that deals with the "doctrine of signs." Its purpose is to explore questions about the nature of signs, their role in human understanding and in the communication of knowledge to others.

It was probably from Locke that Peirce borrowed the term when he reintroduced it into philosophical discourse late in the nineteenth century. But Peirce's pioneering work in semiotics was most clearly indebted to Aristotle and the scholastics, as well as to certain discoveries in modern logical theory. Peirce conceived of all of logic as semiotics. As such, it is a formal rather than an empirical science, concerned with what must be or would be true about signs in any and all cases. He developed a complex system and terminology for the classification of signs. The trichotomy of icon (a sign that signifies its object by resemblance), index (by a causal relation) and symbol (by virtue of some habit or rule) is the most well known, widely adopted component of that elaborate scheme. For Peirce, the proper object of study in semiotics was not the sign but rather semiosis, the entire process by means of which a sign stands for something to someone, a process schematized as the relationship among sign-object-interpretant. The realm of possible semiosis is unlimited. Peirce argued that there is no separate class of things that can be called "signs" since potentially anything can function as a sign. All thinking is in signs. Persons are themselves complex symbols. The universe, he claimed, is "perfused with signs," the rationale for his description of it as "God's great poem."

Independently but almost simultaneously with Peirce, Saussure was conducting his own semiotic inquiries. Saussure conceived of meaning not as the property of signs viewed as isolated units, but as something that they possess by virtue of their relationship to other signs in a complex system. Meaning is always contrast of meaning, the value of a sign being determined by comparison with other signs in the system. Each sign represents an indissoluble unity of perceived signifier and meaning signified, so that Saussure's dyadic model of semiosis differs from Peirce's essentially triadic account.

These two dominant strands of thought in modern semiotic began to intersect late in the twentieth century as poststructuralist thinkers, steeped in the Saussurean tradition, began increasingly to drawn upon Peircean concepts and arguments. At the same time, the potentially enormous significance of semiotic theory for theology and religious studies still remains to be assessed. Peirce's contemporary, Josiah Royce (18551916) had begun to adapt some of Peirce's ideas for the purpose of developing his own theosemiotic perspective, in his late work, The Problem of Christianity (1913). Peirce remains a rich source of inspiration for any future work in theosemiotic, as do the medieval philosophers whom he studied so carefully, thinkers for whom the religious importance of semiotic theory was paramount. While semiotic historiographers have focused their attention on a narrative that links ancient Greek with modern western thought, future inquiry will require a broadened purview. The resonance of certain Buddhist ideas, for example, with aspects both of poststructuralist thought and of Peirce's philosophy, has been observed by some scholars. This suggests that a Buddhist contribution to semiotics (typically neglected, perhaps, because of a perceived Buddhist suspicion of the religious efficacy of words and images) still needs to be evaluated.

See also Augustine; Biosemiotics; Language


Bibliography

aristotle. the complete works of aristotle: the revised oxford translation, ed. jonathan barnes. princeton, n.j.: princeton university press, 1997.

augustine, aurelieus. augustine de doctrina christiana, ed. r. p. h. green. oxford: oxford university press, 1996.

deely, john. introducing semiotic: its history and doctrine. bloomington: indiana university press, 1982.

eco, umberto. a theory of semiotics. bloomington: indiana university press, 1979.

peirce, charles s. collected papers of charles sanders peirce, eds. charles hartshorne, paul weiss, and arthur burks. cambridge, mass.: harvard university press, 19351958.

peirce, charles s. semiotic and significs: the correspondence between charles s. peirce and victoria lady welby, ed. charles hardwick. bloomington: indiana university press, 1977.

poinsot, john. tractatus de signis: the semiotic of john poinsot, ed. john deely. berkeley: university of california press, 1985.

royce, josiah. the problem of christianity (1913). chicago: university of chicago press, 1968.

saussure, ferdinand de. course in general linguistics, trans. wade baskin. new york: mcgraw-hill, 1966.

michael l. raposa

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SEMIOTICS

SEMIOTICS. The study and analysis of SIGNS and SYMBOLS as part of COMMUNICATION as for example in LANGUAGE, gesture, clothing, and behaviour. Present-day semiotics arises from the independent work of two linguistic researchers, one in the US, the other in Switzerland. Charles S. Peirce (1834–1914) used the term to describe the study of signs and symbolic systems from a philosophical perspective, while Ferdinand de Saussure (1857–1913) coined semiology as part of his interest in language as a system of signs. The terms have generally been regarded as synonymous, and semiotics is better known, especially in the English-speaking world.

Almost anything can be a sign: clothes, hairstyles, type of house or car owned, accent, and body language. All send messages about such things as age, class, and politics. Sign systems, however, are not peculiar to human beings: the study of animal communication by gesture, noise, smell, dancing, etc., is termed zoosemiotics, while the study of technical systems of signals such as Morse code and traffic lights is communication theory. In semiotics, the term CODE refers loosely to any set of signs and their conventions of meaning. Language represents a rich set of such codes, both verbal (in language proper) and non-verbal (in the para-language of facial expressions, body movements, and such vocal activities as snorts and giggles). The media provide visual and aural signals in photographs, radio and television programmes, advertisements, and theatrical performances. Literature is seen as a particularly rich semiotic field with such sub-disciplines as literary and narrative semiotics. Critical attention has come to focus not only on the codes themselves, but on the process of encoding and decoding. Readers, it is argued, do not simply decode messages, but actively create meanings: that is, they re-code as they read.

Peirce and Saussure were interested in the relationship between sign and referent (what a sign refers to). Although they both stressed that this relationship was essentially arbitrary, Peirce argued that different types of sign had different degrees of both arbitrariness and motivation. What he terms an icon is a highly motivated sign, since it visually resembles what it represents: for example, a photograph or hologram. His index is partly motivated to the extent that there is a connection, usually of causality, between sign and referent: spots indexical of a disease like measles; smoke indexical of fire. Peirce's symbol is the most arbitrary kind of sign: the word in language, the formula in mathematics, or the rose representing love in literary tradition. See LINGUISTIC SIGN, SEMANTICS.

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semiotics

semiotics or semiology, discipline deriving from the American logician C. S. Peirce and the French linguist Ferdinand de Saussure. It has come to mean generally the study of any cultural product (e.g., a text) as a formal system of signs. Saussure's key notion of the arbitrary nature of the sign means that the relation of words to things is not natural but conventional; thus a language is essentially a self-contained system of signs, wherein each element is meaningless by itself and meaningful only by its differentiation from the other elements. This linguistic model has influenced recent literary criticism, leading away from the study of an author's biography or a work's social setting and toward the internal structure of the text itself (see structuralism). Semiotics is not limited to linguistics, however, since virtually anything (e.g., gesture, clothing, toys) can function as a sign.

See R. Barthes, Elements of Semiology (1967); A. A. Berger, Signs in Contemporary Culture: An Introduction to Semiotics (1988).

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semiotics

se·mi·ot·ics / ˌsēmēˈätiks; ˌsemē-; ˌsemˌī-/ • pl. n. [treated as sing.] the study of signs and symbols and their use or interpretation. DERIVATIVES: se·mi·ot·ic adj. se·mi·ot·i·cal·ly / -ik(ə)lē/ adv. se·mi·o·ti·cian / ˌsemēəˈtishən; ˌsēmēə-/ n.

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semiotics

semiotics (semiology) Study of signs and symbols, both visual and linguistic, and their function in communication. Pioneers of semiotics include Charles Sanders Peirce and Ferdinand de Saussure. Roland Barthes and Claude Lévi-Strauss developed the principles of semiotics into structuralism.

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Semiotics

Semiotics (study of signs): see SYMBOLS.

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